Essie's Story: The Life and Legacy of a Shoshone Teacher

Essie's Story: The Life and Legacy of a Shoshone Teacher

Essie's Story: The Life and Legacy of a Shoshone Teacher

Essie's Story: The Life and Legacy of a Shoshone Teacher


This is the spirited story of the author, an accomplished & inspiring educator in Indian boarding schools. Born in 1909, she grew up attending Haskell Indian Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, & often visited relatives on the Shoshone Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. Motivated by teachers like Ella Deloria & Ruth Muskrat Bronson, she devoted her life to teaching other Indian children. She began teaching at Wahpeton Indian School in Wahpeton, North Dakota, in 1930 & has remained active in education to the present day. Her experiences as student & teacher have enabled her to provide a detailed portrait of Indian boarding schools. We learn about daily life at Haskell & about the challenges & rewards of teaching for the Bureau of Indian Affairs at Wahpeton. Above all, her life illuminates the ongoing struggle by Native teachers & students to retain their cultural identities within a government educational system designed to assimilate them. The authors developed this life history in a truly collaborative manner. They carefully document both personal history & the creation of this work. What emerges is an engaging & informative narrative about education & identity.


When first I met Sally in 1981, I could have sworn that I had known her all my life. Our mutual interest in the boarding school experience provided the basis for a growing friendship. I remember receiving a letter from her, after she moved to Vermont, in which she requested permission to work with me in recording my life history. I debated at length whether I wanted to be a party to revealing the events of my life, but she was a person who radiated sincerity, and I detected nothing superficial about her. In our working together, I frequently forgot that Sally was not Indian. Her knowledge about our culture and her respect for it, combined with her warm sense of humor and caring ways, helped create a bond between us.

After we agreed on a collaborative approach, I realized that I would have the chance to tell my own story without embellishment. I believe that I have something of importance to share with the educators of American Indians and the public at large. I would like to think that, after I am gone, the value of my educational experiences and philosophies will live on through this life history.

I would argue with any scholar who said that Sally and I could not maintain our objectivity because of our love for each other. We are both too strong and too feminist to let that happen.

The memories that surfaced as we recorded and edited the manuscript brought both joy and sorrow. Sharing the materials and working on my life story with Sally made me more mindful that we are all interdependent parts in the circle of life. Our memories are long—as long as the line of the generations.

I owe a special debt to my family, especially my daughters, Vonnie and Dianne. Sadly for us, Vonnie died on May 28, 1997, but during her lifetime both she and Dianne always supported my endeavors. They traveled with me, especially when they were younger, and endured my assignments to "in-services" concerned with the education of Native American youth. That support is vital to me even now as an elder.

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